Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A knock-out blow to Calvinism (Romans 4:6-8)

Anyone following this blog will note my obsession with Romans 4 and imputation (logizomai), particularly in my recent posts (e.g. Here and Here). I've studied and discussed with Calvinists enough to know just where to go for the "knock out punch," and it's at the point where few Calvinists will dare take on my claims. It is my hope that more and more Catholics become aware of these simple arguments, so that they can send a message to the Protestants they know.

Regarding the text in the title of this post, Romans 4:6-8, what has been traditionally considered by Protestants as a knock-out punch to Catholicism will be shown to be just the opposite. This post will consist in a formalized restating of what I presented (and stunned silent) a Calvinist on a post I made at the Called to Communion blog. The following are 4 reasons why Romans 4:6-8 (quoting Psalm 32:1-2) soundly demolishes Calvinism:
(1) Paul says a Justification took place in the prayer David made when composing Psalm 32. Since David is not converting to Judaism at that time, it can only mean he lost his justification through grave sin (adultery and murder) and was repenting to become Justified again. In fact Luther himself taught David lost his salvation: “[W]hen holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them” (Smalcald Articles #43). This irrefutably contradicts the Calvinist idea that Justification cannot be lost. 
(2) The text of Ps 32:2b says “in who’s spirit there is no deceit,” which means an inner sanctification took place at that moment as well. Some might object that Paul didn't quote the rest of Psalm 32, including this stanza, and thus he didn't mean to include 32b in his lesson in Romans 4. But if that is true, it means Paul selectively quoted David out of context (which nobody believes). This conforms to David’s description of being forgiven elsewhere, such as being “upright of heart” (32:11) and “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin … purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (51:2,7). It is plain that Psalm 32 and 51 go together, especially since there cannot be two forms of God's forgiveness. This description of what Justification entails, namely an inner sanctification of the soul, is precisely what Catholics teach but completely unacceptable for Calvinists because they think it would be conflating Justification and Sanctification (though Paul never makes this distinction that Calvinists teach). 
(3) When David says “blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin,” this can only mean God will not reckon him a sinner because his sins have been forgiven, as the context clearly speaks of forgiveness (32:1). The term “reckon” here puts the Calvinist in another serious bind, since it’s the same Greek term Paul uses throughout the chapter when speaking of “reckoning righteousness”. The Greek term (logizomai) cannot mean “to transfer,” since it would then mean “Blessed is the man whom God will NOT transfer his sin” – and thus the term “reckon” can only mean to ‘evaluate as’. This means that when Paul speaks of faith being “reckoned as righteousness” (in the very same context), he cannot be speaking of transferring an alien righteousness, but rather must mean ‘evaluating faith itself as having a righteous quality’. 
(4) In Romans 4:6-8, Paul equates the phrase “reckoning righteousness” with David's phrase of “not reckoning sin”. In other words, rather than being two different reckonings, they are one and the same, simply from two different perspectives. For example, if I clean a stain off my shirt, I can just as easily "reckon cleanliness" to my shirt as I can "not reckon a stain" on it, since both phrases refer to the same reality. This realization is huge and explicitly refutes the Calvinist notion of double-imputation, where not reckoning sin (i.e. forgiving) is seen as one half of the equation, bringing the sinner from a "-1" to a "0" state, and reckoning righteousness (i.e. transferring a perfect obedience to God's law to his record) is seen as the other 'half' of Justification, bringing the sinner the rest of the way from a "0" to a "+1" state. Given Paul's equating of the two, it’s impossible to say “reckon righteousness” is one half of the picture and “not reckon sin” is the other half, since they are synonyms here. To buttress this point, Luther and Calvin made this same claim, namely that Paul is teaching the two phrases are synonymous, which is also why they didn’t believe in the Active Obedience of Christ


Sobieski said...


I came across your site in researching Calvinist theology as I have Calvinist friends and think you have some great insights. I am no biblical scholar, but I haven't heard these arguments before. It seems like the typical tact for Catholic apologists is to focus on the "faith alone" aspect vs. the transference of righteousness aspect. You should seriously consider writing a book IMO. The thought has crossed my mind that someone could steal your material, which would be a shame.

So are you a convert from a branch of Calvinism or are you just interested in the subject?

Nick said...

Hello Sobieski,

First off, thank you for your appreciation. It helps me when I get feedback (positive or negative).

I never was Calvinist, but until about 7 years ago I was a typical uninformed Catholic. But I was interested enough in the truth that I wanted to be sure I was on the right path. I quickly learned that the most logical and consistent branch of Protestantism was Calvinism, and with some of their arguments I began to strongly consider becoming Reformed. I stopped short of this as I was pondering how I could know if I was truly elect or not. After realizing that it is impossible to know, I knew Calvinism was deeply flawed and in fact offered no "Assurance" at all. Since Calvinists also tend to be the most smug, I've put a lot of emphasis on going after them. As I've studied and thought about these subjects more and more, I came to realize that Calvinism is so embarassingly weak that any Catholic can refute it with the most simple yet elegant arguments right from Scripture.

The arguments I present are a combination of learning from others and my own insights. I am very big on presenting short yet concise arguments that hit upon major Protestant 'arteries'. The reason why my 'brand' of apologetics is so effective is that I mentally put myself in the place of a Calvinist (or whomever) and approach the argument as one simply seeking for the truth. This way I will never be attacking a straw man. That's why I don't mince or multiply words, I know just what to say to hit upon a given weakness, and I don't leave room for the Protestant to squirm away. That way this never turns into verse-slinging, since I don't allow Protestants to claim "as their own" texts like Romans 4 in the first place.

I would not want to write a book because I don't like the commercialism that has become so prominent in Catholicism today. I want my material to be free and easy to read. I don't mind if someone takes stuff I say and makes a book, because hopefully their goal will be to teach others and not so much about making a profit. I'm more concerned about Catholics becoming informed than being popular. I believe we are living in the last decade or so of intellectually based Protestantism, and that the Catholic arguments against it are rock-solid, which is also why big name Protestant apologists are fading into irrelevance with each passing day.

Sobieski said...

Hi Nick,

I agree that Calvinism seems to be the most intellectually rigorous of the Protestant groups. I started researching a while back and was looking into James White's debates with Catholic apologists, some of whom did better than others against him. Has he ever tried to take on your arguments? It seems like the people over at Triablogue are more formidable as well, but I haven't had time to read through much of their material. Of the many Catholic websites I've seen, yours is among the best IMO. I also think Dave Armstrong, Phil Vaz and John Salza have good material. I've heard good things about the Called to Communion website, but haven't read through much of it yet.

My background is like yours, but after tangling with atheists and "born again" Christians in college, got interested in apologetics, which led me eventually into studying Thomism. I think my mind and personality are suited to systematic theology and philosophy like that found in St. Thomas's works. Also I was interested in answering atheism (which FYI Edward Feser has some excellent material online and in books). After going many years in that direction, I am now interested in deepening my understanding of the Scriptures as well to better round out my knowledge. St. Thomas in fact has a number of scriptural commentaries available online. (If you are interested, I have a PDF of the Romans commentary that I could email to you as it isn't at the link provided.) There are so many treasures of wisdom in the Church. I recall reading that St. Robert Bellarmine and possibly your patron wrote very effective works which resulted in the conversion of many to the faith. Fr. Cornelius a Lapide, SJ wrote an entire commentary on Scripture, except for Job and the Psalms.

As for your material, I think it is noble that you are mainly interested in pursuing, promoting and defending the Catholic faith. I agree that apologetics can be too commercial and further really dislike the cult of personality among Catholics that can form around some popular speakers. In fact, it can be spiritually dangerous I think. If you ever pursued a higher degree, however, you could probably use your material for a thesis of some sort (maybe you have).

I believe we are living in the last decade or so of intellectually based Protestantism, and that the Catholic arguments against it are rock-solid, which is also why big name Protestant apologists are fading into irrelevance with each passing day.

I hope this is the case, but it would be ironic in some ways as the changes made during and after Vatican II were tailored to some extent to suit Protestant sensibilities. My opinion is that it has been disastrous in many respects for the Church, liturgically and theologically speaking. I do think many of the problems we face in modernity and Western civilization have resulted from the doctrine of private judgment in matters of religion, which has turned into private judgment in just about everything. The resulting moral and religious relativism, which has largely divorced Christ and His Church from society, has led our civilization to the brink. So one way or another, I think change will be coming.

Christie said...


My name is Christie, and I'm a Protestant in RCIA. I was wondering if you could e-mail me the PDF of the Romans commentary if you get a chance? I would really appreciate it.

Thank you!